U.S. officials say Tuesday's assassination of two Sunni Arab members of Iraq's constitution drafting committee will not halt work on the document. A draft constitution is due to be presented to the Iraqi National Assembly in less than a month.
The shooting deaths on a Baghdad street prompted several other Sunnis involved in the process to walk out Wednesday, citing what they said was the government's failure to provide adequate security.
But officials here say they do not think the incident will halt the critical drafting process, and that they're hopeful the Sunnis will respond to terrorism as other Iraqis have, and defiantly return to work.
The Bush administration has made no secret of its eagerness to see the draft constitution completed and submitted to the National Assembly on schedule August 15 in order to keep the broader process of democracy-building in Iraq on track.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States strongly condemns Tuesday's killings, which he attributed to terrorists trying to frustrate the democratic aspirations of most Iraqis.
"This is a sign that there are those who are determined to thwart the will of the Iraqi people to prevent a democracy from taking root in Iraq, and what's also clear is that they're not going to succeed because they're swimming against the tide. There's a vast majority of Iraqis who want a better future, who want a democratic country," he said.
The two men killed Tuesday were among 15 Sunni Arabs added to the 55-member constitutional committee last month to expand Sunni participation.
Mr. Ereli said security concerns of Sunnis involved in the process are understandable but that the United States looks forward to their return, and to supporting their efforts in any way it can.
The spokesman meanwhile withheld comment on reports that the draft constitution emerging from the committee's work would sharply curb women's rights, particularly on issues like divorce and inheritance rights.
The New York Times Wednesday published details of a chapter of the draft which it said would defer decisions on such issues to Muslim religious authorities, and in effect roll back protections for women provided in secular Iraqi law for decades.
Spokesman Ereli said he preferred to refrain from commenting until a final draft was presented. But he said in any event, it is an Iraqi process and that the United States would provide advice to constitution-writers only if asked.
"To the extent that we can be helpful to them in their efforts and provide constructive advice when it's welcome, we'll do it. But that is not to suggest that this is anything but an Iraqi-led and an Iraqi-determined process and a made-in-Iraq product," he said.
The New York Times said the drafters were debating whether to drop or phase out a key provision of the country's interim constitution, co-written by U.S. officials last year, requiring that women make up at least one-fourth of the Iraqi parliament.
The prospect of curtailed rights has drawn complaints from Iraqi women's groups, who held a public protest in Baghdad Tuesday.
Mr. Ereli said that demonstration was a sign of the real democratic nature of the drafting process, which he said was positive and should be welcomed.